Malcolm LIPKIN (b. 1932)
Symphony No. 1 (1965) Sinfonia di Roma [19.17]
Symphony No. 2 (1979) The Pursuit [21.38]
Symphony No. 3 (1986) Sun [26.31]
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Lionel Friend, rec. Broadcasting House, Glasgow, 15 June 1988
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Edward Downes, rec. BBC Studio 7, Manchester, 10 February 1983
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Leaper, rec. RNCM, Manchester, 6 January 1983
LYRITA SRCD349 [67.57]
This release has already been heralded by Colin Mackie in an entry on the MusicWeb message board as a “wonderful” event. It is all the more so since these recordings appear to be not “off the air” as he had assumed — other releases by Lyrita which derive from Richard Itter’s collection have been clearly identified, and these are not so described — but copies of the original BBC master tapes.
Over the years the BBC have been extremely niggardly regarding the release of tapes from their archives, but the fault does not appear to lie wholly with the BBC and the Musicians’ Union as Colin Mackie implied. Some years back there was a whole series of “BBC Radio Classics” which furnished mainly recordings of standard repertoire but which did expand into the field of British music with examples of Rozhdestvensky in Vaughan Williams as well as works by Howells and others, but these recordings (mainly although not exclusively derived from BBC tapes) have long vanished from the catalogues and the more adventurous off-air pirated recordings of more obscure material from Intaglio disappeared almost as soon as they were issued. In more recent years again the BBC have licensed other companies to release their original recordings, and the reason that the field of British music has not been further explored would seem to lie with the record companies who are prepared to release such material commercially rather than with either the BBC or the MU, whatever may have been the situation in the past. Be that as it may, we must be extremely grateful to Lyrita for taking up the cause, and even more so for the fact that they certainly seem to intend to expand their activities in this field further.
In the absence of any commercial release of any of Malcolm Lipkin’s symphonies off-air recordings of the Second and Third in these same performances have been available on the internet, but the issue under consideration here is clearly superior technically; and so far as I can discover the broadcast of the First Symphony is here being heard for the first time since its original relay on 3 March 1989 — nearly nine months after the actual performance. This recording was made over twenty-two years after the symphony was premièred; the other two represent the first performances of each symphony and so far as I am aware the sole ones to date. It is good indeed that the composer is still alive to hear this compendium, for which many unfortunate writers have had to wait until after their death.
The comprehensive and informative booklet notes by Paul Conway describe the First Symphony as “atonal” but this should not be taken to imply that they are in the same modernist style of many other British works of the 1960s. Indeed, although there is no definite sense of key, the music is frequently harmonically based around a distinct series of notes and the overall effect is no more unapproachable than (say) Bartók, showing the evidence of the composer’s four years of study with Bernard Stevens. The symphony has elements of a tone poem, and the original inspiration came from Lipkin’s experience of a traffic jam in Rome in the 1950s. The work stands on its own feet as a purely musical unit, with the description of the traffic jam — taken as a symbol for modern life with its noise and bustle — forming a central scherzo-like movement surrounded by a slow introduction and a disturbed concluding nocturne. Like all the symphonies on this disc, the music is continuous throughout. Paul Conway rightly describes it in his notes as “a powerfully cogent symphonic statement”.
The other two symphonies here are similarly descriptive. The Second Symphony takes its inspiration from four lines by Andrew Marvell:
But at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity
The sense of pursuit is palpable during the opening section, with a static centre before what Paul Conway describes as “a massive peroration”. Throughout these symphonies one is aware of Lipkin’s confident deployment of large orchestral forces, which are splendidly realised by the BBC orchestras under their various conductors. The first performance of The Pursuit was given on 9 February 1983, with this studio reading for broadcast made in a session the following day; and the sense of identification of the performers with the music is tangible.
The Third Symphony also derives its programmatic intent from a poem, this time by Robert Herrick:
The Glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,
The higher he’s a getting;
The sooner will his Race be run,
And neerer he’s to Setting.
This lyric does not seem in itself to hold out much promise in terms of purely musical content, but Lipkin takes it as a metaphor for human life. He writes that its “spiritual essence is also concerned with that other arc of man’s own race: the morning of life, its zenith and its evening.” This is much more fertile territory for musical development, and the results are magnificently realised. Again Lipkin displays a masterly control of his orchestral forces, and the tapes taken from the first concert performance are marvellously detailed.
On the basis of this disc it is clear that Lipkin is a major symphonist whose music deserves to be better known. This new release may reduplicate material available elsewhere, but the fact that the recordings come from the original BBC master tapes makes a major difference to their impact. This disc is a must for anyone interested in the British symphony in the twentieth century, and should attract many others as well.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Previous review: William Kreindler